It’s all about trans-fats these days, the recent craze is everywhere. Several major cities are even taking action to ban the substance from use in restaurants. Unfortunately with these recent happenings, trans-fat has been thrust into the limelight and has taken the focus off of other over-consumed nutrients, such as good old fashioned fat and sugar.
First, what are trans-fats and why are they to be avoided like the plague. Without going overly scientific, they are vegetable oils that have been processed, by adding hydrogen molecules to the structure of the fat, also known as hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation. This alters the chemical structure solidifying the fat and making it more stable with a longer shelf life. The problem arises when you eat it. Trans-fats can increase the risk of heart disease having a similar effect on the body as saturated fat does.
Many companies are jumping on the trans-fat ban-wagon with many products in grocery stores claiming trans-fat free while some companies are still searching for trans-fat alternatives. You may have noticed that trans-fat is now required to be labeled on food packaging as of January, 2006. It’s a great start, however it still allows for some deceptive loop-holes. FDA guidelines state that a food can be labeled free of any major nutrient as long as it has less than 0.5 grams of that nutrient per serving of that food. When your favorite food says trans-fat free it probably means it still has some, just not enough to be listed on the nutrition facts panel. If you want to do some detective work, you can look at the ingredient listing; if the product contains even a speck of trans-fat it will have some reference to a “partially hydrogenated “vegetable oil. Most healthy foods will never have trans-fat to begin with and won’t be labeled trans-fat free.
New York City was one of the first to enact trans-fat legislation. They passed a law going into effect in 2008. Restaurants and eateries will no longer be allowed to use them in the preparation of their food. LA is up next, they’re encouraging a voluntary phase out of all trans-fats in restaurants over the next 2 years.
Starbucks just announced their plan to phase out trans-fats in their baked goods and make them trans-fat free. A spokesman said “Our focus has always been on providing our customers with healthy and nutritious food options”. Hold it, why are we trying to make an unhealthy food just a tiny bit healthier. Those baked goods still have loads of calories, many having 400-500 in just one single muffin or scone.
Be warned, trans-fat free does not mean that a food is healthy; it just means that is a little bit better than it was before. A little better mind you. Even if your favorite chocolate donut is trans-fat free, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It’s still not OK to eat these products now that they’re trans-fat free. They’re still loaded with junk – it’s just trans-fat free junk! Please don’t interpret trans-fat free as a license to seek and devour. I’ve seen many advertisements touting trans-fat free, even one with a tagline, “No more guilt, our cookies have no trans-fat.” When you think of it, it’s reminiscent of the fat-free fad of the 90’s or the low-carb craze of just recent years.
While I certainly agree that trans-fat should be eliminated as much as possible from your diet, it’s not the major concern with Americans today; an over-indulgence on simple sugars, refined carbs and lack of exercise is what is driving the obesity epidemic we are now facing.